30 Things About My Invisible Illness You May Not Know

Well, I’m a few days late (and more than a few dollars short). I’ve been working on this post for a week while not feeling well, but I’m determined to finish. Invisible Illness Awareness Week was last week and, in an effort to raise awareness, invisibleillnessweek.com has put together the “30 Things About My Illness” questionnaire below. The website offers support to patients and caregivers through articles, podcasts, illness lists and links to associations and resources. You should check it out!

30 THINGS ABOUT MY ILLNESS:

1. The illness I live with is:

ME/CFS. I have other conditions, such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, IBS, hypoglycemia, dysmenorrhea, vasovagal syncope, autoimmune angioedema, and chronic headaches but these are speed bumps in relation to the Mount Everest that is ME/CFS. Undoubtedly, all these problems are connected in some way.

2. I was diagnosed with it in the year:

I was diagnosed about one year ago.

3. But I had symptoms since:

ME hit me one night like a freight train around Halloween of 2011 (I can’t remember the exact date). One hour I was fine, the next hour I was in the grips of what I thought was a very bad virus. Chills and drenching sweats lasted all night and… the rest is history.

Years before that, I had dealt with thyroid goiters, anaphylaxis and dysautonomia symptoms, but they were just blips in my otherwise healthy, normal life. ME/CFS changed that.

4. The biggest adjustment I’ve had to make is:

I could say losing my career, my social life, traveling, my income, the future I envisioned… But, really, the hardest adjustment has been a life with minimal energy expenditure: the loss of walking, running, talking exuberantly, emoting, gesticulating… I hate this still life.

5. Most people assume:

Most people assume I’m being antisocial. Most people assume that I worked too much, hit a wall and walked away and am just uncommunicative. Only my family and closest few friends know the extent of what happened to me.

6. The hardest part about mornings are:

The distressing, sinking realisation that I’ve woken up too early (and won’t go back to sleep) and had a bad night. Feeling dizzy before I’ve even opened my eyes. Being greeted with a headache and neck pain before I’ve even sat up.

7. My favorite medical TV show is:

House!! And any real life medical show like Trauma: Life in the ER. I’ve loved that stuff my whole life. They used to show real operations, graphic and unedited, on some show in Ireland when I was young and I loved watching. I’m not squeamish; I always thought I’d be working in an ER.

8. A gadget I couldn’t live without is:

My smart phone. It’s my lightweight connection to the rest of the world: news, blogs, emails, texts, photos, videos and calls. Plus, it has all my meditation CDs on it.

9. The hardest part about nights are:

For the first year I was sick, nights were lonely, terrifying, desperate, viral horror shows. There are not adequate words to describe what my nights were like. Now, the hardest part is the fear that I will not sleep well and will wake the next morning feeling worse.

10. Each day I take __ pills & vitamins.

I usually take about 26 supplements a day (double that for the number of actual pills). Currently, I’m on a vitamin and supplement hiatus, so I am only taking probiotics, magnesium, melatonin, Zyrtec, nasal spray, topical antibiotic cream, and a few times a week, when I have a headache or can’t sleep, I take Tylenol, Unisom, and Tizanidine.

11. Regarding alternative treatments I:

I have tried most of it: acupuncture, massage, craniosacral therapy, reiki, energy healers, meditation, breathing exercises, diet, stretches, Chinese herbs, supplements blah blah blagh. I don’t know what constitutes “alternative”, but I would do anything to get better.

12. If I had to choose between an invisible illness or visible I would choose:

I have a half-written blog post called “Visible Illness” because I look sick ~ or, at least, I look different than I used to ~ and I have caught myself feeling jealous of the “healthy”-looking ME patients I have seen online. However, my illness is invisible in the sense that nobody can see just how bad it is by looking at me ~ especially during the first year, when I pushed through everything to go to work.

Which would I prefer? Neither. Illness is evil and, ultimately, nobody can ever comprehend a sick person’s suffering, regardless of how bad they look on the outside.

13. Regarding working and career:

I never stop dreaming about my next career. I have a different idea every day. I miss working, I miss having responsibility and helping people, I miss being good at something, I miss having the security of an income.

14. People would be surprised to know:

Those that haven’t seen me in a while would be surprised to see that I have gone from an energetic, talkative, happy, demonstrative, busy person to someone who moves very little and doesn’t leave the house. Those close to me might be surprised to know just how black my blackness was this past year and how often I thought about suicide (it took all my guts to write that word. It’s shameful and scary, but true).

15. The hardest thing to accept about my new reality has been:

That I can’t exert energy. That’s it. It rules all else. I can’t find a new job, I can’t make plans for a different life than the one I had imagined, I can’t socialise or cook food or deal with banks or disability or do anything to adapt and move on. I only feel ok if I am flat on my back, not moving. But I keep trying to make progress and those endeavors always cause me to be in pain. And I’m intolerant to painkillers. So it’s a continual try-to-gain-ground-get-knocked-down cycle.

16. Something I never thought I could do with my illness that I did was:

Admit it – admit I was a sick person. Also, there was a time when I wondered if I’d ever laugh again. When the headaches ease up, laughter returns. It’s glorious.

17. The commercials about my illness:

There are none, but there are commercials about fibromyalgia and, of course, they show women able to move freely if they take Lyrica. Imagine the only symptom being achiness! Imagine a pill taking care of it! Sign me up!

18. Something I really miss doing since I was diagnosed is:

See this post. Dancing with my dogs on the beach, eating whatever I want, staying up late, talking nonstop, getting excited, getting angry, having a career, dreaming up future plans, driving myself places, traveling, having financial security… See the recurring theme?

19. It was really hard to have to give up:

I want to say everything in #18, but I’ll change it up and say getting dressed and feeling pretty. I miss a great pair of jeans and make-me-feel-tall boots and thinking my eyes look bright and generally feeling attractive.

20. A new hobby I have taken up since my diagnosis is:

Meditation. I couldn’t live without it now.

21. If I could have one day of feeling normal again I would:

Only one day? So not enough time to go to Europe? Can I plan this day in advance and get my loved ones to come to me? Ok, I’ll assume that’s a yes. Then I would get everyone I love to Seattle in advance and on The Day we would hike, talk, laugh, play games, eat a lot, get rip-roaring drunk, never have to rest and then sleep soundly, deeply, peacefully ~ without a cpap and with my husband and dogs.

22. My illness has taught me:

How under-equipped society is to help the disabled, sick and elderly. It is astounding and harrowing to realise how difficult and time-consuming it is to drive, park, get to a doctor’s office, get home help, get financial help ~ everything! And, when you’re sick, everything costs more, so what happens when you can’t work? I worry about old age all the time.

23. One thing people say that gets under my skin is:

When people say nothing. When friends don’t want to “burden” me with their own problems or don’t contact me because they don’t want to “impose” or don’t text me because I haven’t responded in days/weeks and they think the ball’s in my court or that they don’t want to keep “bothering” me. It is incredibly comforting when someone asks questions about my illness or vents to me about their hardships or gossips about work or continues to let me know they are thinking about me. Once in a while, I would love my husband (and family) to take a break from being the strong caregiver and wallow in a bit of mutual mourning: “This is so fucking unfair! We had dreams and plans! We had only just stopped living paycheck to paycheck! You were so alive and I am turned inside out to see your life force disappearing…” Maybe it’s selfish, but, someone else screaming at the sky would make me feel a little less alone.

24. But I love it when people:

Remind me that, even in this diminished capacity, I am still vital and worthy of being a friend.

25. My favorite motto, scripture, quote that gets me through tough times is:

“As long as you are breathing, there is more right with you than wrong with you.” ~ Jon Kabat-Zinn

Also, my mother once told me she had read that if you have one pain-free day, there is the possibility of being permanently pain-free. I think about this all the time on days like today: Just because I’m having a bad day today, it doesn’t mean I will always have bad days. There will be days again without headaches. There will be days when I can move more freely.

26. When someone is diagnosed I’d like to tell them:

You will improve. That was the first line of an email someone wrote to me and I didn’t read any further, I just closed the computer and wept. I needed to know that life could and would be bearable one day.

Also, I caution anyone recently diagnosed to not read all the horror stories about ME. It is good to raise awareness about the severity of this disease,  but, after doing tireless research for months, my fear drowned out what my body was whispering. Stop pushing yourself, rest, listen to your body and believe you will improve. 

27. Something that has surprised me about living with an illness is:

How many of us there are ~ in every country, of every age, ethnicity and socioeconomic standing. I am amazed and grateful for how many of us are online, sharing advice and giving support to each other. Sometimes, you lot are all that gets me through.

28. The nicest thing someone did for me when I wasn’t feeling well was:

Not leave me. My husband, family and a few friends have wrapped themselves around me ~ physically and virtually ~ and given me the security that I have SWAT team back-up in this war.

29. I’m involved with Invisible Illness Week because:

I’m quoting Linds: “I think it’s a great way to bring much needed awareness to the struggles others endure. The illness is invisible, not the person.”

30. The fact that you read this list makes me feel:

Honoured. Or honored, depending on where you learned to spell. 🙂

Also check out my other blamily members’ answers to this questionnaire: Jess, Marie, Christine, Luminescence, Trisha… Who have I missed? Let me know if you posted this questionnaire to your blog and I will link it here.

Try something different. Surrender.

After over a month it occurred to me that maybe just maybe this downturn has been caused by the break from my cpap. I guess, if I’m honest with myself, I didn’t quite believe my apnea was a problem. I sleep through my brain “waking up” 49 times an hour, but I don’t sleep through the cpap mask waking me up 20 times a night, so my subjective view of my sleep is that it is worse when I wear my cpap. What I know for sure is, my symptoms wax and wane in direct relation to how well I sleep. Although I know my ME/CFS was caused by viruses and the flu shot taking advantage of an extremely stressed and depleted body, I sometimes wonder, if I’d slept well my whole life and known about the apnea sooner, could I have avoided this illness?

When I went downhill in April, I reversed any changes I had made in the weeks before: I went back to Now Foods vitamin B2 and alpha lipoic acid, since I had recently changed brands. I stopped the Seriphos supplement, I stopped the Chinese herbs, I stopped driving anywhere, I stopped walking and doing stretches, I stopped taking baths since they raised my heart rate so much. But nothing has been working. I have to try something different. Since my health insurance is taking its sweet time approving my apnea dental device (shocker), it’s going to take well over a month to have it made. Verdict: back to the cpap. Keep your fingers crossed that this makes a difference.

My other plan is to surrender to this new low. Somebody on an ME/CFS forum recently said, “We may have lost everything in our lives, but WE HAVEN’T LOST OUR LIVES.” It stayed with me. I’ve spent 1.5 years fighting, investigating, grieving, pleading, hoping, wailing, warring… Again, time to try something different.

I’m sorry to throw quotes at you, but this, too, has stuck with me for weeks and it is my current inspiration:

Very little grows on jagged rock.
Be ground.  Be crumbled.
So wild flowers will come up
Where you are.

You have been stony for too many years.
Try something different.  Surrender.

~ Rumi

A Day In The Life

My yesterday:

I had an appointment with the orthodontist at the sleep clinic to be fitted for the sleep apnea dental appliance. I already postponed this appointment a week since I’d been feeling so awful and, even though I’m still feeling awful, I didn’t want to cancel again. I’ve actually started to think that maybe part of the reason I’ve taken such a prolonged downturn is because I haven’t worn the cpap in two or three weeks, so I need to get this fix-apnea show on the road. [Quick aside: last week, when I called to reschedule, I told them I had an appointment with the orthodontist, but couldn’t remember her name. “Dr. P—–? She’s actually a dentist,” the receptionist corrected me and it’s been bugging me all week. I just googled Dr. P.: Nope, the doctor is an orthodontist and completed her residency at Harvard School of Dental Medicine and was on the orthodontic faculty at the University of Tennessee, College of Dentistry. Maybe this bothers me because my father is an endodontist and there is a significant amount of additional education and expertise that goes into a dental specialty. (I was on my way to becoming a Registered Dietitian once upon a time ~ a 2-year full-time graduate program that was going to cost me $50,000 ~ before I could even apply, I spent a year taking prerequisites that I didn’t have from my Bachelor’s degree: anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, organic chemistry etc. Virtually every time I talked to someone about my future career, they would confuse what I was doing with being a “nutritionist”. The distinction was important to me. Anyone can call themselves a nutritionist! Beware, those of you in the US: a “nutritionist” can be an 18-year old that read a lot of cooking magazines in her bedroom and decided to hang a shingle outside her door. There are no legal or professional regulations!) But mostly I think the mistake bothers me because I was incorrectly corrected… And you should know the staff… Rant over.]

The orthodontist, Dr. P., was really nice and very sympathetic to my situation. She said my teeth and jaw bone looked wonderful and my movement (of the jaw back and forth, side to side) was great and I was perfect candidate. She warned me that my teeth might shift from the appliance (like having braces) and my bite might change slightly and my jaw might hurt in the beginning and that they will give me exercises every morning to help stop the “muscle memory” in my face/jaw/head that will have a tendency to keep my jaw in the forward position it’s used to from 10 hours in bed wearing the device. She took the impression of my teeth and then told me to make an appointment for 5 weeks from now for the fitting. No. Way. Everything takes so long! It’s going to be another 2 months before I can even try out this device. Boo.

Unbelievably, this appointment was 1.5 hours (how could I have predicted that?!). The orthodontist was very thorough and explained everything in great detail, which I appreciate, but her office was windowless with horrid lights in the ceiling and at the 45 minute mark I was already losing focus and slumping in my chair. I had driven myself to the sleep clinic because it is very close to my house, but I had an acupuncture appointment afterwards downtown for which I need a chauffeur. I planned to meet my husband at home, but the appointment went so long, I asked him to come to the clinic to get me. Dr. P. gave me the option of coming back another day to have the impression done, but that would have postponed the whole process ANOTHER week. I called to warn the Good Master acupuncturist, my husband left his work truck in the sleep clinic lot and, before we got to the highway, I realised I had to eat something. Acupuncture on an empty stomach is no good and, if I didn’t eat something until 5pm when we got home, I would collapse. Because my diet is such a nightmare, the easiest thing to do was go home and quickly microwave some of the amazing leek and turnip soup my husband had made the night before… Of course, now it would have been much better if I had just driven home myself and met my husband there, rather than abandoning his truck at the clinic.

My acupuncturist only inserts needles in the ears, forearms, calves and feet. I may feel and look like crap, but I still have a modicum of vanity and, on the drive downtown, I was clipping my toenails and moisturizing my legs while eating my soup and reviewing my symptom calendar so I could accurately recount how I have been feeling since my last appointment. All this while sitting as far to the left of my seat as possible ~ practically on the center console ~ to avoid the blaring sun on our west side, threatening internal combustion and making my headache even worse. Once I got there (only ten minutes late!), he said he didn’t want to aggravate anything with acupuncture today… Wow, I had even shaved my legs. Instead, we talked about the Chinese herbs. Finally, after all these months, I was ready to buy a bottle. I’ve been waffling about this treatment for so long! He was quite excited. During our very first appointment last September, not even knowing that I would be one of the 1 in a 1,000 patients that had negative reactions to acupuncture, he had said, “Chinese herbs will be the most important thing for you.” He has always maintained that I have Gu Syndrome and these herbs are the key to my recovery. What finally made me come around was: 1) Dr. Chia’s video (if I had journeyed all the way to California to see him and he had put me on Chinese herbs after the Good Master spent 7 months steadfastly and confidently urging me to take his pills, I would have been mortified. They use different herb blends, but I trust my acupuncturist completely). 2) I started to feel worse. If I had stayed on that uphill trajectory, I wouldn’t have wanted to rock the boat by introducing anything new. So, maybe this crash will be a blessing in disguise.

The best part of this visit was he persuaded me to take my first pill while we were sitting there talking. He knew full well I might go home and not open that bottle for months ~ if ever. I’m such a chicken. Eat something with a lengthy ingredients list of things I can’t pronounce? Swallow something containing herbs my body has never encountered before? No, thank you. Not this delicate flower. But, the thing is, even though I know I have a sensitive system, I really still believe in the resilience of my body. She’s been a trooper all these years. So, I took the pill while he watched and I took another a few minutes ago and I feel fortified ~ emotionally, if not physically. Yet.

My appointment was so short that my husband was still about 15 minutes away when I finished. I was a mess. I was a shuffling pile of jello, slurring my words, bumping into walls. I literally did not manage to exit the elevator into the foyer before the doors started to close again ~ that’s slow! PWME (people with M.E.), you will appreciate this: I didn’t want to wait on the loud, busy, beepy, dusty street corner, so I wondered into the mattress store in the bottom of the acupuncture building and mumbled something to the socially-awkward salesman about needing a new bed. He looked at me uncertainly because I’m sure I sounded drunk and I was having a hard time walking. I told him I had an injury and didn’t want to walk around the store, but I would lie on this TempurPedic in front of me to see how I like it. Writing this, I’m laughing out loud because it really can be tragically hilarious the things we do to catch a rest break. (By the way, I wasn’t totally lying: I have a new plan to put a twin mattress in my meditation room, so my husband can have our bedroom back.)

The end of the story is that I was virtually comatose on the drive home, other than being able to feel every divot in the road grind my vertebrae together and batter my brain against the walls of my skull (note to self: win the lotto and buy the smoothest, quietest, comfiest car on the market). I tried to muster up the energy to drive home from the sleep clinic parking lot so my husband could drive his truck, but I was unsteady on my feet and I was really having a hard time opening my eyes and speaking clearly. It was just like the time I got pain killer and muscle relaxer injections in my butt for a sprained neck. I was all floppy and out of it. So, we went home instead and I don’t even remember stumbling to bed where I stayed for two+ hours. My husband took a taxi back to his truck.

It wasn’t until after 7pm that I read the news about the bombs at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. There are no words to describe how I feel about this tragedy, but I am once again filled with gratitude for those people that don’t turn away from suffering. From the first responders and the medical personnel that make helping their careers, to the bystanders and strangers that jump in to help without hesitation, to the friends and family that provide ongoing support to those that hurt… holding hands, holding vigil, holding hope… Thank you.

Title Credit.

Fish or Get Out of the Boat

I’m not up for writing, honestly, but I want to track a few things from the last few weeks. The Monday before last I had a follow up with the Good Doctor after 9 weeks. Let me just tell you, I love this doctor. I wish she were an expert in M.E., but she is the closest ally I have in this fight and I feel so confident in her hands. At least that was my feeling leaving her office. Now, looking back, I can’t remember much of what we talked about or decided. I told her I was a different person than I was the last time I saw her (New Year’s Eve). I want to remember that because I feel like hell today and I need to know that there has been progress. On New Year’s Eve I was just starting to feel better after the very low low of December. On Christmas Eve, while the men were in the kitchen, I told my sister that if things didn’t change, I couldn’t imagine going on. I was in such extreme pain and stiffness, that it was difficult to go through the motions of life, let alone find joy in the moments. As I’ve mentioned before, the muscle and back pain were horrid, but the headaches, coupled with the EXTREME noise and light sensitivity, were the main culprits. Well, cut to this last appointment with the Good Doctor and I have had over two months with hardly any headaches and much less pain, overall. What changed? I don’t know. Here are my theories:

December 1st: started Berberine
December 4th: started drinking only filtered water
December 11th: started drinking tart cherry juice concentrate every night
December 17th: stopped the birth control pill
Late December: stopped taking pain killers
January 5th: started vitamin B2 and selenium
January 6th: started cooking (once in a while) with coconut oil

I started feeling a little better on December 26th, but pain continued to lift through January. Sleep was better, too. I have been putting my faith in the tart cherry juice, but, honestly, I think it has more to do with eliminating the pill and pain killers.

Unfortunately, my sleep started to go downhill again and continues to decline. I fall asleep without any problem, I stay in bed 10 to 12 hours, sometimes I don’t remember waking up at all (although, most nights I remember 12 to 15 awakenings), but I hardly ever have proper, calm sleep cycles. I I feel like I am going insane. I was so thrilled the last few weeks that, although my nights were tortured, my days were staying okay. Until this past weekend. Today, I am so tired. I ache all over. I am back to moving like the Tin Man. I don’t recognise myself in the mirror. I think, for the first time in my life, I look older than I am.

The Good Doc’s plan for me is to try valerian for sleep and then move on to Chinese herbs and/or an antidepressant. She is the only doctor I’ve ever seen that uses psychotropic drugs as a last resort. She said, “Cymbalta is great for depression, but you’re not depressed.” I’m not. I’m not sad or hopeless. My mood is actually pretty good (as long as the bad pain stays away). She said, “It can help with sleep, but can cause insomnia, too, and it has a host of side effects that might set you back. So, let’s eliminate all other options first.” Love.

She also said I can try adding legumes back into my diet. I’m going to wait until after my period to eliminate any confounding variables caused from PMS… but, I might not even add them back at all. I have been on this diet for so long, I feel like I should keep it consistent while I try the Chinese herbs and sleep drug.

That Monday I also saw the sleep clinic tech to get a new cpap mask. It’s the most impressively designed mask that I’ve come across yet (Respironics Wisp), but it makes no difference, I’m still awake hundreds of times each night (literally hundreds ~ the sleep study showed I was waking up 48 times an hour). Last Friday, I went to see the rheumatologist I saw a year ago (literally ~ the doc pointed out I was there on the same date in 2012). The first thing he said was, “Why are you here? Chronic fatigue syndrome is an infectious disease.” My brain was so fried, I honestly couldn’t come up with any reason why I was there. I couldn’t for the life of me think what a rheumatologist does. I had gone to acupuncture beforehand and the Master had done a session that was meant to make me very tired so I could sleep well that night. It didn’t help me sleep that night, but it certainly caused me to be half-comatose in the hours after the appointment ~ I was slurring my words driving from acupuncture to the hospital and, after melting for an hour in the waiting room, I was far from the articulate, cogent, well-informed patient I pride myself on being… And the rheumy was a fast talker ~ a New York native, I think, based on the accent ~ and I was the last appointment of the week, so all-in-all, it wasn’t going the way I had planned. I think I said something like, “I’m not sleeping and I think it’s the fibromyalgia-type constant awakenings and I wanted to talk to someone who knew something about this.” He told me about the sleep study that Dr. Moldofsky conducted many years ago (I’ve now heard about this study from every single doctor I’ve talked with about sleep. It must be on every medical school exam) and then he said, “Try amitriptyline. You have to try something. I have patients that would rather limp in pain their whole lives than have knee or hip surgery. That’s fine, but you narrow the horizons of your life.” I know that is exactly how I would be: limping is a certainty; surgery is an unknown and full of risks. The doctor said, “As my father used to say, [for days I’ve been trying to remember the adage he used: fish or get out of the boat, catch something or reel it in, cast or go ashore… something like this].” I replied, “My Dad would probably say, shit or get off the pot.” And that was the end of our appointment.

So, the week’s round-up: After three nights, valerian is making no difference and I’m seriously considering turning to amitriptyline or cymbalta. My period is four days late. My skin is like braille. I’m swollen, tired and achy. BUT, for a few weeks there, I thought I was definitely making progress and that has given me much renewed hope for the future. I can do this. I shall overcome. Plus, every day without a headache is a good day. Pure gratitude!

First colour in the garden. Spring fever. :)

First colour in the garden. Spring fever. 🙂

…it was just so interesting to me that a ride could make me so frightened, so scared, so sick, so excited, and so thrilled…

What a roller coaster it has been. One day I want to write about one thing, the next day, everything has changed and I want to write a whole different post… So, I wind up writing nothing at all.

I spent three days feeling good. And I mean good. Stiffness was drastically reduced, my back pain was virtually eliminated, my energy level was up and, best of all, I had no headache. For three days, I wasn’t grimacing at my husband’s footsteps or holding my ears while we watched tv. It was bliss, I tell you. Then, a series of unfortunate events: Sunday night, my husband turned on our yet-unused gas fireplace insert (purchased because wood fires make me dizzy and my lungs burn) and the house filled with chemically burny metal paint fumes. I didn’t think much of it ~ it’s a brand new unit, after all ~ until Monday morning when I woke up very dizzy. My husband had gone to SO MUCH trouble to get this fireplace for next to nothing ~ driving out of the city to a clearance sale, standing on the roof, repairing the chimney for days, going into the crawlspace and disappearing into the hearth to run the gas, building/grinding/soldering/I-don’t-know-whating a framework because the insert was much smaller than the opening to our fireplace… So, I was upset and emotional all day. What if the fumes from the fireplace made me dizzy? Oh no, we didn’t think of that! What if the new paint or whatever doesn’t burn off and that smell lasts for ages or the permanent off-gas causes me to get dizzy or makes my eyes burn or makes my chest tight…? Where will I go while he tries to burn off the smell? Should I get a hotel? What if this bloody fireplace causes me to be worse in the long term? The usual fretting. So, we were worried and annoyed and frustrated. Also, I think everything was exacerbated by PMS because, after months of being an emotional zen master, I felt inflamed. I was distraught and enraged. I was guilty that my husband’s fireplace project might be a complete waste. Knowing my sensitivity to scents and chemicals, I was frustrated that we hadn’t taken this into consideration. I was upset that my husband wasn’t more sympathetic to how this might worsen my symptoms (he wasn’t pleased when I asked him not to turn it on again). I was furious that this disease ruins everything. That night, knowing my period was looming and taken aback by the onslaught of my emotion, I started the birth control pill again. I thought, Whoa, PMS is HELL. I need my hormones regulated again. Then, that night, things fell apart. I woke up feeling like someone had turned on a shower over me. Sweat was running down my ribs and dripping onto the bed. I was so confused. At first I thought it was blood… Then I thought maybe my cpap machine was leaking water… I hadn’t had these sort of drenching night sweats in so many months, that I didn’t even recognise the symptom. My sheets were soaked. I got up, pulled off the sheets, changed my pillow, lay down some towels. My cpap mask and headgear were slick with sweat. I had to take it all off to dry it, wash my face. And I was shaking. And scared. Was it from the pill?? Was it from the heightened anger and emotion of the day? Was it from the tart cherry juice I started drinking? Was it from the fireplace somehow? Was it because I have been taking melatonin every night for too long? I checked my blood sugar to rule out hypoglycemia and went back into fitful sleep.

My acupuncturist encouraged me to see it as a good sign. He explained that, in Chinese medicine, as the body gets stronger, you will experience some of the earlier symptoms again. He said, I had been in the Yang Ming stage, where the pathogen was deep inside my body, but, as I try to fight it off, the pathogen is pushed into the Shao Yang ~ the “Lesser Yang”, Which is characterised by the chills and sweats. He said, “Fever means you are winning.” That made me feel better for about two hours until I developed a crushing headache, which hasn’t gone away in five days. And this headache isn’t the normal one ~ it feels more like the narcotic bounce-back headaches I get. So, I start the relentless questioning again: Is it from the acupuncture (it got much worse that night)? Is it from the birth control pill? Is it from the fireplace? Did I overexert myself? Is it from the tart cherry juice, for fuck’s sake?? The hard part is that I am convinced the headache is from the pill and, if you stupidly go online and research it, like every other drug in the world, the horror stories make you want to stop right there and then. So, here I am again… weighing the pros and cons of having a viciously painful, incapacitating period over Christmas or putting up with this headache all day, every day, which is not touched by painkillers and makes me feel as if I am carrying a very dangerous, sleeping 2,000lb crocodile on my head: constant pressure and pain, never making noise or sudden movements… Right now, not being in the throes of period cramps, I choose a period over the headache and I decide I won’t take the pill tonight (imagine what I am doing to my body jumping on and off the pill like this!). However, you know one week from now, when I am curled in a ball, weeping and ~ god forbid ~ the headache hasn’t gone away, I’ll be wanting to put myself back on birth control.

Those few days before the fumey-angry-sweaty-pill day were glorious. I thought I was coming out of the dark ages. I was sleeping better, I hadn’t put IcyHot on my back in ages, I didn’t think about a painkiller for two whole days! I’ve had the surge in energy before but I can’t remember the last time I had had some relief in stiffness and pain. Heaven.

That’s my catch-up. I am just trying to maintain my tenuous grasp on Okay, so we can have a nice Christmas with my sister and her boyfriend.

Speaking of, my sister and brother came over to visit for one day last week (my brother, a pilot, had a layover here) and it was absolutely wonderful. Even though I had tried very hard not to talk too much, gesticulate too much, laugh too much, walk around too much, still, by the end of the night, my internal tremors were vibrating from scalp to toe, my eyes were unfocused, my face was red and muscles stiff… I crawled to bed at 9:15pm and thought, “That day was worth every symptom.” I am so grateful for family, for lightness and conversation and laughter. Once in a while, it is important to put fear away and forget the careful construction of the day… and just live a little.

You know, it was just so interesting to me that a ride could make me so frightened, so scared, so sick, so excited, and so thrilled all together! Some didn’t like it.They went on the merry-go-round. That just goes around. Nothing. I like the roller coaster.

What’s gone wrong in your system?

I got the results of my sleep study test yesterday. I spend about 15% of my night in deep and REM sleep and these should be around 20%. Also, I have a form of sleep apnea. There are three different kinds (I can’t remember the names): the most severe kind is when you stop breathing for a full ten seconds or more ~ I don’t have this. The second kind is when your throat relaxes to the point that you are not getting enough air, but it is a partial restriction ~ not full apnea. And the last kind is when this throat closing causes your brain to wake up to rectify the situation. I have the latter two. He said my brain is waking up an average of 49 times an hour. This has me in an aroused, wake state a lot, obviously, and it also causes my sleep cycles to be interrupted, so, even if 15% of my sleep is deep, it’s broken up throughout the night, which isn’t as restorative. So, I get to use a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machine! Seriously, I’m going to sleep with the Zeo headband, a mouth guard and a face mask? Wtf? That’s a pretty sight. But, please god, let it help me feel marginally better.

He also said, “Have you had your ferritin level checked?” “Yes, two months ago. It’s in your computer.” He looked it up: “Oh, it’s low. You should be on a supplement ~ that’ll help you feel less fatigued.”

Now, let me tell you how much this pisses me off. The crappy chronic fatigue clinic ordered this test along with zinc (which is also low). The results came back two months ago and nobody called to tell me what it meant. My regular GP saw the result of the ferritin, also, and didn’t tell me to do anything about it. Mine is low and I don’t have a period. If I had a period, it would be far lower, the sleep doctor said. So, I could have had TWO MONTHS OF SUPPLEMENTS UNDER MY BELT BY NOW IF SOMEONE HAD JUST REVIEWED THE RESULTS AND CALLED ME. I am raging mad! This has happened at every single step along the way this year. Nobody communicates with the patient. Actually, the front desk people do ~ schedulers etc. ~ they’ve been pretty good. And maybe one or two nurses. But is there a doctor out there that says, “I am testing you for X, Y, Z and, when I get the results, I will call you and explain them. I don’t think you have A, B, C and this is why:…”?? How dare they! I don’t know why the ferritin has me all riled up. It’s just that he put me on a heavy-duty supplement (ferrous gluconate 648mg/day), so obviously I need it and it might make a difference. Actually, the reason I’m so annoyed is this has happened so often and can have more serious consequences. I won’t get into the details, but my husband had a test that the doctor said was negative, but we have access to our results online, so, I looked at the results and googled the test and did the math and said, “uuummm, I think this is positive, not negative.” He emailed the doctor and, sure enough: “Oh, yes, sorry, it is positive. We need to treat you for that.” Say what?! I know they’re only human and I know they’re very busy and I know the whole healthcare system is a mess and maybe the doctors are just as frustrated as we are, but what if we didn’t have access to our records? I never would have found the mistake. And that’s just one of countless mistakes. Please, everyone, be your own best advocates. Call for your test results, request copies of every test you get done, review them yourself and point out anything that looks odd. And, pay attention to any result that is in the low or high range of “normal”! Normal has never been normal for me. My TSH was in the low range of normal for years as two giant goiters grew and strangled my thyroid until it wasn’t working anymore. My ferritin was technically in the “normal” range, but the doctor said it was too low. Et cetera, et cetera, blah blah blah.

Ok, on to other stuff. WordPress shows me what internet searches led people to my blog. Yesterday, 6 out of 14 searches were for MRI info, so it makes me really happy that I expended the energy to write my tips. I hope it helped someone out there.

My wash-out period ended on Tuesday, but I haven’t added anything back in because I felt like such shite, I didn’t think I’d be able to distinguish my disease symptoms from any symptoms new foods caused. Maybe I will add rice today. The Good Doctor says we are looking for “stark sensitivities, so worsening of mood, fatigue, energy, pain.” This is really hard. I was feeling pretty good last week and then, without warning, I was a mess. If I had added rice in that day, would I think rice had caused it?

I’m back to using the light box and I’m starting acupuncture again next week. I’m going to try all the supplements again, as well as melatonin, Lyrica, and the Chinese herbs. I just don’t know in what order… I guess I have to add all the eliminated foods back in before I start anything else to gauge my reactions… This is so tedious and time-consuming. I used to love Thanksgiving and Christmas and now I don’t get to celebrate at all. I can’t eat most of the food, I have no energy to do special preparations and, even if I did, there’s no point in planning something when the activity and/or socialising will just cause me to crash. Wow, this life sucks.

On a lighter note, have I mentioned how grateful I am for my husband? He drives me to my appointments, takes the dogs to the park, fixes our roof, landscapes the garden, hoovers, cooks dinner, sprays IcyHot on my back and, above all, keeps a positive attitude.

Good times gone, and you missed them
What’s gone wrong in your system?
Things they bounce like a Spalding
What’d you think, did you miss your calling?

It’s so free, this kind of feeling
It’s like life, it’s so appealing
When you’ve got so much to say
It’s called gratitude, and that’s right

Good times gone, but you feed it
Hate’s grown strong, you feel you need it
Just one thing, do you know you?
What you think that the world owes you?

What’s gonna set you free?
Look inside and you’ll see:
When you’ve got so much to say
It’s called gratitude, and that’s right

Diet Day 36… No supplements Day 5

I have been strictly gluten-free now for over six months. Not a grain of gluten, not a crumb of bread, not a noodle of pasta, not a crust of pizza, not a spoonful of couscous, not a whiff of malt, nothing. I feel no difference whatsoever except a deep longing for tortellini. I haven’t broken the autoimmune diet that the Good Doctor put me on over a month ago except I still cheat with oats and sugar (actual and fake sugar), but that’s it. And I probably eat more condiments than she would like (Veganaise, salad dressing etc.). And I probably eat more red meat and oil-soaked chicken than she would like (I ordered a steak and grilled chicken from a local restaurant last night and split them with my husband. Lots of greasy meat. YUM). But, seriously, there are only so many salads a girl can eat. Oh, and I feel no difference whatsoever except a deep longing for popcorn.

This is the fifth day of no supplements. I have been taking vitamins, just no borage oil, alpha lipoic acid etc. I decided to give myself a week off to see if they were contributing to my headache. No such luck so far. My head threatens to explode all day, every day. Yesterday I took 500mg of tylenol and a half a Solpadeine (250mg of tylenol and some codeine). They didn’t seem to help my head and my breathing was tight all day, so now I am paranoid that the Solpadeine, like the Norco, depresses my respiration. I must figure out a pain killer option ASAP.

So, I’ll start back on all the supplements on Tuesday. I’ll do it until the end of the year. That is my commitment. Definitely until Thanksgiving. And I’ll continue this diet until the end of time, what do I care? At least the diet doesn’t cause a rash or my chest to close or my tongue to swell… I don’t think it does, anyway. It probably contributes to the depression, though!

When do I start the Chinese Herbs? He says it is a six month to a year commitment… Ugh.